Responsive Environments

Announcement: International Summer School with Philip Beesley, Waterloo and CITA by martintamke
May 19, 2009, 4:47 pm
Filed under: General | Tags: ,

Responsive Environments: developing concepts for sustainable architectures

August 10 – 24, 2009

The workshop will take place at CITA (Centre for Information Technology and Architecture) at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Philip de Langes Allé 10, 1435 Copenhagen K, Denmark.

Call for participation:
The summer school has a wide international call for students and other interested parties from KARCH, Waterloo and beyond. The course will bring together a team of practitioners and students from across Europe and Canada.

To apply:
Please confirm interest and commitment to attending before June 1st, in a short written statement addressed to Mette Ramsgard Thomsen and Philip Beesley. A small portfolio of prior work will be helpful.

Acceptance into the course will be confirmed by June 5th 2009.

The summer school investigates how concepts of interactivity and responsiveness can suggest new ways of thinking the relationship between the building and its environment. The contemporary societal context necessitates the thinking of sustainable solutions for our built environment. But how do these challenge the way we think and design space? How do we challenge our understanding of sustainability from being a set of posterior technological implementations to become part of the intellectual thinking and culture of architecture? Where formalist design traditions uphold the autonomy of the architectural artefact, we ask how ideas of interfacing and actuated behaviour can allow a re-conceptualisation of core architectural terms such as context, shelter, programme and extension.

The summer school asks:
– If interactivity presents us with an inherent openness towards the exterior, how can new models of permeability and exchange challenge the way we think site and enclosure?
– If embedded actuation allows for adaptable structures, how does this challenge the primacy of permanence in architectural design?
– What are the technologies and materials that can enable the realisation of this new architecture of responsiveness: what is energy, how can we harvest it and how do we exploit it?


The goal of the summer school is to develop a major interactive architectural environment. The installation will be developed at the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture (CITA), Royal Academy of Fine Arts, at the Royal Danish Academy during August 2009, involving an intensive two week workshop that brings together students and faculty from Waterloo, The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Philadelphia’s PennDesign, and other European schools to work closely with experimental architectural designers and creators within the Copenhagen community at CITA.

The workshop will design and fabricate a new immersive kinetic sculpture environment that responds to user stimulus with dense, distributed fields of physical movement controlled by massively repeated arrays of microcomputers embedded within the textile-like layers of the space. This will be mounted in a large public gallery space on the grounds of the Royal Danish Academy.

By working collaboratively to produce and refine this installation, participants will gain advanced experience in key aspects of responsive architectures: networks and systems composed of complex parts assembled into coherent artificial ‘organisms’, actuation systems based on shape memory alloys, innovative techniques for creating large volumes out of small amounts of material, implementation of digital fabrication and advanced modeling, simulation and visualization techniques.

Working in collaboration with Philip Beesley (Waterloo) and Mette Ramsgard Thomsen (director CITA), a group of 16 students will be trained in experimental methods of digital fabrication, lightweight component design, accretive geometry, interactive systems including electronics, kinetics, controls and behaviour scripting.

An initial workshop and installation will provide skill-building and hands on experience in the systems that will be used throughout the course. Individual and group development will proceed permitting specialized exploration weighted to participant interests. The workshop will culminate in an immersive installation exhibited in the gallery spaces of the Royal Danish Academy and the exhibit will be refined and remounted in a major gallery space created for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, December 7-18, 2009.

The program will integrate and optimize durable kinetic mechanisms with control systems characterized by decentralized responsive intelligence, using massively repeating miniaturized custom laser-cut components, low-cost custom microprocessors, sensors and actuators. The work will be developed by means of exchanges between Beesley, Thomsen, expert collaborators and the participants, each focusing on specialized layers that are brought together in cycles of development.


Participants are expected to participate in all course training and building sessions, to take part in discussions and reviews determining final configuration and detailing of the installation, and to create and maintain a project website which will document the process and products of the two week workshop. A permanent web publication will be produced that credits the participants.

International students selected to take part in this graduate elective will be required to arrange their own transportation and accommodation in Copenhagen for the period of August 10-24, 2009. Billeting and collective dining will be pursued with Royal Danish Academy students in order to mitigate accommodation costs. Return to Copenhagen for the December Climate Summit is optional and is not required for course credit.

Aug 10 – 12 Initial installation, imparting basic skills of participants
Aug 13 – 19 Project development
Aug 19 Launch full-scale installation
Aug 20 – 23 Production and installation of work
Aug 24 – Sept Exhibition at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture,
Exhibition Hall Meldahls Smedie
Dec 7-18, 2009 Re-mount, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Constructed from arrays of repeating elements, the architectural environments developed will be designed at multiple scales: at the level of intricately detailed individual custom components, intermediate tessellations and clusters composed of component arrays, and large-scale integrated environments composed of multiple layers of specialized systems. The space will be fabricated using computer-controlled rapid prototyping equipment and will be activated by distributed arrays of sensors and actuators. The character of the assembly will emerge from the combined and compounded ‘chorus’ effects of numerous actuated mechanisms, distributed throughout the structure and controlled locally by microprocessors. The microprocessors will use local information obtained through proximity and capacitance sensors to govern actuated movement. Mechanical interconnections and digital communication systems will connect individual components into meshed arrays. Mechanism is a central term of reference for this work, drawing upon new disciplines of mechatronics and artificial intelligence, integrated with applied technologies of industrial design and digital manufacturing.  In parallel, empathy will be examined, drawing upon aesthetic theory that examines nuanced relationships involving projection and exchange. The broad tradition of Organicism forms the context for this study.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture (CITA), Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Waterloo Architecture, Canada Council for the Arts,  Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Ontario Arts Council


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